Strong Towns welcomes our newest member, Mayor James Shafferton, from the International Space Station. The mayor was available for interview via e-mail.
Mayor Shafferton wrote: "We have budget problems and we are too dependent on federal aid. That makes us very fragile. Our current development pattern is unsustainable. We hope Strong Towns has the answers."
The International Space Station was launched into orbit in 1998 and currently has a population of 6. Most are scientists who spend their days conducting biological, chemical and physical experiments, and drinking kombucha. It’s a beautiful but lonely life on the space station. When the crew stumbled upon the Strong Towns website during some downtime one night, Mayor Shafferton was thrilled.
He noted a number of Strong Towns principles that seemed applicable for the ISS: “For one thing, our transportation system is really unsustainable. Residents should not be forced to ride a dangerous expensive spaceship just to get home from work. We need a diverse array of transportation options to give people a choice."
Russian cosmonaut and ISS resident Krasotkin Aleskeevich proposed installing bike lanes at a recent town hall meeting. The public response was not good. “ISS is not Copenhagen. Nobody’s going to ride a bike in space,” said one disgruntled astronaut who has been on the Space Station since 1999.
Shafferton shared with us the Space Station’s current budget problems: “We can’t continue to gamble on multi-billion dollar expansion projects. With the budget cuts to NASA, the funding just isn’t there anymore.”
A lack of access to natural resources presents a real challenge to the local residents of the ISS, although natural beauty abounds. “The views are spectacular. I’m surprised we don’t have more tourists. I guess it’s a pretty expensive place to live,” said one resident astronaut. Affordability is a real issue for current and potential ISS residents, as the cost of living averages around $7.5 million a day.
“We are really reliant on just a couple businesses up here. We need to diversify our economy,” the mayor told us. “We have made progress on mixed-use developments though. I mean, we all live, eat, work and sleep in the same building.”
However, residents want more retail opportunities. “The food up here is really bad,” said American astronaut Frank Smith. “It’s dry and powdery. We could use some high quality local restaurants. The Strong Towns message showed me that’s possible.”
We tried to set up a conference call with Mayor Shafferton to record a podcast. However, that proved futile as it took too much time for the signal to travel between Brainerd, MN and the International Space Station, which was orbiting at 250 miles above the South Pacific.
Locals are trying to raise money to bring Chuck out to the ISS for a Curbside Chat sometime in 2017. They have currently raised about $2,200 of the $450,000,000 needed.
(Top photo courtesy of NASA)